This has been a holiday-filled week.
Last Sunday was my mother’s birthday. She is now [edited by blogger for fear of being disinherited] years old.
Monday was Columbus Day. (Whatever happened to PEDRO’S JOURNAL, the Columbus-themed book by the late Pam Conrad? Ten years ago it was on every grade school reading list. Now I haven’t even heard any mention of the book in…well, ten years.)
Monday was also Thanksgiving, just across the river in Canada.
Tuesday I had the day off work…and that always feels like a holiday.
Wednesday was my birthday. I am now [edited by aging blogger] years old.
Saturday was Sweetest Day -- a flowers-and-candy holiday which is celebrated on the third Saturday in October here in the Great Lakes region. Many years ago I saw a couple arguing on Sally Jessy Raphael’s talk show because the guy hadn’t bought the girl any candy for Sweetest Day. Right away I knew they had to be from Michigan. But poor Sally was confused. She asked, “Sweetest Day?” and the woman said, “The day he was supposed to get me flowers and candy.”
“Oh!” said Sally. “You mean Valentine’s Day!” Then she turned to the camera and confidently repeated, “She means Valentine’s Day.”
No, Sally. She meant Sweetest Day. In October. Get with the program.
…And while we’re on the subject, has any children’s book or young adult romance novel ever made mention of Sweetest Day? I can’t think of a single one! Get with the program, YA writers!
(And if I seem a little testy to you this morning, yes, you guessed it: nobody gave me any candy for Sweetest Day yesterday. I ended up buying a Ritter Sports Bar for myself.)
Finally, to round out this holiday-themed week, today is Easter.
Well, at least it is at my house.
Last April, when the real holiday arrived, we were facing a family crisis. Plus we were in the midst of moving, with so many packed boxes stacked everywhere that there wasn’t any place to sit down for Easter dinner. So I ran out and got corned beef sandwiches from a Jewish deli and postponed Easter dinner for a few months. So tonight we’re finally having our ham, au gratin potatoes, vegetables, rolls, and rhubarb pie Easter dinner.
I did not dye Easter eggs.
Easter eggs in October?
We may be strange, but we’re not that strange.
Today’s Sunday brunch lists this year’s National Book Award finalists, wonders where books go to die, shows off a stuffed Fern and Wilber, and talks about the trend toward omnibus editions of children’s books.
Last Sunday morning it may have looked like I was just sitting in my bedroom blogging, but I was actually having some books signed at the same time.
Late Saturday evening my bookstore friend called and said she was attending a Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association program the next day. Among those signing books were Richard Peck and Jennifer Holm. Knowing that I’m a big fan of both authors, my friend suggested that I run my books over to the store the next morning and she would get them signed for me at the event.
I went to pick up the books later this week. I was thrilled to have Richard Peck sign THE TEACHER’S FUNERAL -- one of my favorites.
But I was really floored by what Jennifer Holm signed in my ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of her latest novel, TURTLE IN PARADISE:
I couldn’t believe she’d ever heard of my blog – much less (hearted) it! And then she signed the book with her first name, as if were personal friends! What a great inscription!
She also signed my hardcover copy of the book. Notice the different cover illustrations. I think Random House made a good decision changing from the ARC illustration to the more sophisticated cover art used in the final published copy:
She also inscribed my copy of PENNY FROM HEAVEN:
Of course it’s a first edition!
Who would believe that, while I sat here blogging away last Sunday, my books were getting such wonderful inscriptions from “Jenni”!
(Should I admit it was the first in my life that anyone called me cool?)
The finalists for the 2010 National Book Awards were announced this past week. The five nominees in the category of Young People’s Literature are:
Paolo Bacigalupi, SHIP BREAKER
Kathryn Erskine, MOCKINGBIRD
Laura McNeal, DARK WATER
Walter Dean Myers, LOCKDOWN
Rita Williams-Garcia, ONE CRAZY SUMMER
Who will win? The NBAs are notorious for their slightly irregular decisions.
The winner will be announced on November 17.
I hope to have my own reviews of the five titles posted by that day.
RECOGNIZE THIS BOOK?
A new reader to this blog sent me the following stumper. And I am stumped. Does anyone have an idea what book he is referencing:
I read this book in 1973. It is the story of one of Cinderella's mice that only half ways transforms back the next day, becoming a mousy little man. As I recall, most of the plot concerns the glass slipper as the McGuffin, and the intrigues of getting Cinderella to her happy ending. It is a (short) chapter book, with line illustrations. I do not know the title or author.
I do know it was not Cinderella's Rat, by Susan Meddaugh; or I Was A Rat, by Phillip Pullman; or Coachman Rat (Ashmadi) by David Henry Wilson. All these books were published years later. To further muddy the waters of my search, along comes Disney's Cinderella II: Dreams Come True.
My brother sent me this combination birthday/housewarming present -- a set of antique glass bookends for my library:
From what I understand, the retro-Chinese motif was very popular in the 1930s, and searching around the internet I found variations on this same set of bookends -- some made from different materials (metal, marble) and some painted different colors. But most feature the girl seated reading, while the boy leans over her shoulder, either interested in her or what she's reading. I found this interesting, as I might have expected the opposite: that the boy who, historically, probably had better access to education, would be reading, while the girl would look with longing at the book in his hands. Is there a story or legend behind the scene depicted in this bookend tableau?
I also received a set of salt-and-pepper shakers with a children’s book theme:
Okay, the design is based on Disney, but Alice and the Mad Hatter made their debut in a children’s book!
Finally, I received a copy of this paperback edition of NOBODY’S FAMILY IS GOING TO CHANGE by Louise Fitzhugh, notable for including a photograph from the Broadway production of THE TAP DANCE KID on the cover:
I once asked on this blog if TAP DANCE KID was the only Broadway show ever made from a children’s book. Someone pointed out, quite rightly, that WIZARD OF OZ and PETER PAN had appeared on Broadway. I think ALICE IN WONDERLAND was staged on B’way many decades ago. Oh, and THE SECRET GARDEN was a hit musical a few years back too! But I can’t think of any modern (i.e. not classic) children’s novels that have made it to the Great White Way besides TAP DANCE KID. And how amazing that Dell would use an image from the musical on the cover of Ms. Fitzhugh’s book, considering that the vast majority of its young readership probabaly wouldn't know anything about the Broadway production at the time.
I was fortunate enough to see THE TAP DANCE KID on Broadway. It played at the Minskoff Theatre, one of the few B’way theatres where you have to take escalators to get up to the stage and auditorium. Consequently, when the chorus was tapping in unison, it felt as though the entire seating area was shaking and might just fall several floors down to the street level. I loved the show, but wondered at the time what Louise Fitzhugh, then dead for several years, would have thought of it. Though it had serious moments, the narrative was much brighter and happier than the book NOBODY’S FAMILY IS GOING TO CHANGE.
Maybe the author would have thought that the singing and dancing trivialized the book’s somber themes.
On the other hand, Louise Fitzhugh came from a wealthy, patrician southern family which strongly disapproved of her mother -- an aspiring tap dancer -- so perhaps there would have been some vindication in in creating a successful tap musical.
And considering the initial critical drubbing the novel received -- Fitzhugh died just days after the book’s first and most hurtful review appeared -- there would likely be further vindication in seeing NOBODY’S FAMILY IS GOING TO CHANGE made it to Broadway…and still remains in print thirty-six years after it was published in 1974.
REVIEW : TOUCH BLUE by Cynthia Lord
When the small school on the Maine’s Bethsaida Island is threatened with closure due to lack of students, several island families agree to take in foster children to increase the school’s enrollment and “give some needy children good homes.” Eleven-year-old Tess narrates this story about thirteen-year-old Aaron arriving from the mainland to join her family. The remote teenager rejects Tess’s efforts at friendship, only letting down his reserve when accompanying Tess and her dad on their lobster boat and, later, when asked to perform at the big Fourth of July picnic -- an event that goes all wrong when an island bully puts an insulting note in Aaron’s music book. Aaron’s continued longing for his troubled mother (“I have to know for sure that she’s okay and ask her if she’d going to try to get me back. …I have to see her.”) causes Tess to come up with an ill-conceived plan of going behind the backs of her parents and Aaron’s social worker and inviting the boy’s mother to the annual island talent show where he will be performing. Cynthia Lord’s first novel, RULES, was a well-intentioned, if somewhat limited, problem novel that received a surprising Newbery Honor. TOUCH BLUE is stronger on every level. Though the storyline may be somewhat predictable, the characters are well-individualized, the island setting is superbly-rendered, and every emotion rings true in this well-crafted and satisfying novel.
There is an awful phrase that people use to describe nursing homes: God’s waiting room.
But that phrase sprang to mind this week when I wandered into a local remaindered bookstore and saw a football field of space filled with books that nobody really wanted....
Even I, a book lover and book collector, couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for the several thousand volumes displayed on the cold metal tables: overly commercial children’s books…coffee table books tv shows or movies or trends that never hit it as big as expected (dance the lambada!)…vaguely-foreign novels…omnibus volumes that contain three or four individual mysteries within one cheaply-manufactured spine...every book marked with a black felt-tip remainder slash along the bottom of the pages.... It was depressing.
I guess there are many types of remaindered stores, with wide ranges in quality and quantity. I’ve heard of book collectors who have found treasures at Half Price Books locations. And there used to be a good remaindered store in Ann Arbor called Afterwords that often had recent, even brand-new, titles that were only slightly nicked or damaged. But the majority of remaindered stores I see are usually fly-by-night operations that set up shop in near-empty strip malls or large stand-alone buildings in neighborhoods that have seen better days. Just the sheer NUMBER of books in these stores makes me think I’ll find something worth purchasing. But, even with prices at $5 and less, I seldom find more than one or two cheap books that somewhat interest me.
I’m not really sure what happens to all the unpurchased books when these fly-by-night stores close up shop. Are they among the up to 40% of titles which (according to some sources) are destined to be pulped? Or have they already been separated from those books…and will they just be packed up and sent to yet another remaindered store where wait like dogs at an animal shelter, hoping to be chosen, or will they spend the remainder of their lives in “God’s waiting room” just waiting to be pulped?
Maybe I need to look more closely at such books the next time I visit the remaindered store. I’m sure some of those vaguely-foreign looking novels are better than they look.
And getting three mystery novels in one omnibus volume (no matter how thin the pages, no matter how small the print) is a pretty good deal.
Maybe it’s time I learn to Lambada.
DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE OMNIBUS
I don’t get it. I never have and never will.
When I was growing up, a nice middle-grade novel was maybe 120-220 pages. A typical young adult novel was perhaps 150-280 pages.
So how did we reach the point that most books for kids are now 300…400…500…or more pages?
Sometimes I think it all started with those phonebook-thick Harry Potter volumes.
But sometimes I think the problem is (pardon the expression) bigger than that -- applying not just to books, but spread across every aspect of our culture: Big Gulps. Super-sized meals. Mega malls. McMansions. DVDs that contain deleted scenes and extras and short subjects. (When was the last time you saw a 110 minute movie? Now they’re all 2.5 hours long -- often to the detriment of the film.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against a nice thick novel if it truly takes 400 pages to tell that particular story. But what I’m seeing now are bloated, unfocused stories that severely need editing. Or small narratives that -- by using a small trim size, big print, and lots of white space -- are pumped up from 80 typed pages to a book 320 pages long.
There definitely seems to be some cachet associated with thick books.
It’s gotten to the point that yesterday’s thin books seem downright puny sitting on the shelf next to today's 600 pages behemoths.
Maybe readers feel it makes then look like literary lightweights when you select a 220 page novel from the bookstore shelf, rather than one that causes carpal tunnel syndrome as you carry it to the cash register.
Or, perhaps in these economic times, you feel like you’re getting more bang for your buck with a 500 page novel than a 200 pager.
Whatever, the case, it appears publishers have found a way of addressing the I-Heart-Thick-Books Trend.
In recent weeks I’ve noticed that Atheneum has begun repackaging Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s “Alice” novels in three-volume omnibus editions.
For example, the 640 page I LIKE HIM, HE LIKES HER contains the books ALICE ALONE, SIMPLY ALICE, and PATIENTLY ALICE.
IT’S NOT LIKE I PLANNED IT THIS WAY contains the books INCLUDING ALICE, ALICE ON HER WAY and ALICE IN THE KNOW -- and clocks in at 816 pages.
Geez-oh-pete, the paperback edition of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is only 560 pages long!
And there are more on the way.
Three of Ellen Raskin’s puzzle mysteries will soon be published in one volume:
which is rather a shame, since I know that book design was very important to Raskin and placing these three individually-designed books in one cohesive volume would probably not be what their creator wanted.
[NOTE: Someone just pointed out to me that the advance reading copy of the Raskin contains all three titles, but the actual BOOKS will be issued in SEPARATE BOUND EDITIONS. Sorry for the error!]
Also on the horizon is David Macaulay’s BUILT TO LAST, which contains his architectural wonders, CASTLE, CATHEDRAL, and MOSQUE -- albeit with substantially different texts and -- for the first time -- full-color illustrations:
I guess these books are filling some kind of need with readers, but personally I will always like the feeling of turning the last page of a book, seeing the words “The End,” and moving on to a brand new book. It’s a feeling of accomplishment! And a feeling I won’t get seeing the words “The End” and then turning to the next page and realizing I still have over 400 more pages to go....
THERE’S A SCARECROW THAT I KNOW....
Last year I thought I hit the jackpot when I drove through the center of town and saw all the scarecrows on display were based on children’s rhymes and stories. Great blog fodder!
I didn’t think I’d be as lucky this year, but driving through town yesterday I saw a number of children’ s book characters on display again. This year’s scarecrow theme was the movies so, in between scarecrows depicting Marilyn Monroe with her skirt blowing up and the BLAZING SADDLES cowboys eating beans, I also saw this Dr. Seuss favorite:
and Captain Hook from PETER PAN:
It’s the Tin Man. No, it’s a scarecrow. No, it’s the Tin Man…but it’s a scarecrow:
This one was labeled THE SECRET GARDEN:
Here’s Violet turning into a giant blueberry in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTOR:
as well as Fern, Wilbur, and Charlotte:
Finally, I guess Miss Gulch wasn’t actually in the book THE WIZARD OF OZ (was she?) but...
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